Attorney General Maura Healey announced Monday that a manufacturer of a drug that can help reverse opioid overdoses will pay the state $325,000, resolving her concerns about a sharp price increase.
As the opioid overdose crisis continues to rip through Massachusetts, Healey said that the settlement with California-based Amphastar Pharmaceuticals Inc. will help make the drug, naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, more widely available for less money to cities and towns across the state.
Emergency workers in Massachusetts used about 11,000 doses of Narcan last year, Healey said. The payment, small in the sweep of the $38.1 billion state budget, is the equivalent cost of nearly 10,000 units of naloxone, according to her office.
“We know this drug is important. We know it saves lives by reversing overdoses in an instant and bringing those people back from the brink of death,” Healey said at a news conference surrounded by top public health, law enforcement, and fire officials, and Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg.
Marylou Sudders, secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, lauded the attorney general’s effort and the power of the drug at the event.
“Narcan is a lifesaver. There’s just nothing more basic than that,” Sudders said. “It allows our first responders to completely reverse a death, an opioid death, a heroin death, and to get someone to treatment.”
A Healey deputy sent a letter to Amphastar earlier this year saying increases in the cost of the drug “have strained access to this life-saving medication at exactly the moment when it is most needed.”
The $325,000 will go into the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund, created in this year’s state budget. That fund is aimed at helping communities gain cheaper access to the drug.
Jason Shandell, president of Amphastar, responded to the announcement in an e-mail.
“We are happy that we could assist the state of MA in its efforts to combat opioid overdoses. We are committed to providing safe and effective pharmaceutical products . . . ” he wrote.
High levels of opioids in a person’s system can reduce his or her respiration and level of consciousness, according to Dr. Daniel P. Alford, who directs the Clinical Addiction Research and Education Unit at Boston Medical Center. Naloxone works by displacing opioids from the receptors they are on, mostly in the brain, which precipitates withdrawal and can help restore consciousness and breathing in overdose victims, he said.
The drug is “very safe and incredibly effective in terms of saving lives,” he said. “Reversing an overdose and allowing people to then get more definitive help makes a lot of sense.”
Healey said Amphastar makes a form of naloxone that is often administered nasally, which makes it easy for police officers and firefighters to use on people who have overdosed.
Efforts at addressing the scourge of opioid overdoses in the state have been bipartisan and a priority of many top officials. Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican; Healey and the top two leaders in the Legislature, Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, all Democrats, have worked together to address the public health emergency.
The state has seen an uptick in unintentional opioid overdose deaths in recent years. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said recently that an estimated 1,256 Massachusetts residents died from opioid overdoses in 2014, a sharp increase from 2013 and 2012.Joshua Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.